Parenting Millennials: Uncomfortable Responsibilities

You know those moments when things combine together to make you go, “Hmmm…”? Reading this quote by high school junior Charlie Nathan and reflecting on the way most of us parent our children has caused me to think and rethink my parenting philosophy. Check out Charlie’s description of this generation:

The Millennials have been born into prosperity and leisure. Before now, we have not witnessed a major economic downturn, and the closest most of us have been to war is playing a video game. For better or for worse, we are the “coddled generation,” watched by overzealous “helicopter parents” who would do anything to give their children the edge. We grew up being told that we’re “special” by everyone from little league coaches who give trophies to both winners and losers, to the late Mr. Rogers, who reminded us every morning that the world revolves around us. (Excerpt from American Thinker, March 2009.)

Lying to Our Kids

Having worked with helicopter parents for the past decade, I resonate with some of Charlie’s description. My sense is that many Baby Boomer parents have no intention of ever allowing their Millennial children to grow up. And their parents will keep redefining morality as a result!

The major problem that I see is parents lying to their kids. How does this happen? Like this…

– Parents act like the entire world revolves around their children. But that’s not the truth.

– Too often, parents treat their kids as if the kids are gods. The entire family’s schedule revolves around the activities of the kids. The kids are allowed to do whatever they want, demand whatever they’d like. It’s silly. Children shouldn’t be our gods, and lifting them up as gods is an abomination to the giver of those children.

– Not letting them take the “credit.” I’ve seen parents not allow their kids to take responsibility for their actions. We all know at least one kid who took a joke too far or who got caught doing something nasty, and we’ve all watched their parents chuckle and slap the kid’s wrist. Our children should learn their honest places in society and take responsibility for themselves and their actions.

– Helicopter-ing. Parental hovering over kids leads to immaturity. We need to deal with that fact and let them grow up.

– Not letting kids realistically, and safely, crash and burn. I’m not talking about allowing a kid to experience public embarrassment or letting them get severely hurt, but we have to allow our kids to experience healthy failure. We have to allow them to experience what it feels like to not succeed at something. Not allowing a child to fail is one of the cruelest things we could possibly do in their identity formation. How will our kids ever know who they should be?

– We’ve spent tons of time pressuring schools to create programs for our “academically gifted” children. Truth is, 98% of children are not academically special and/or gifted…they are average. But parents have forced school districts and colleges to lower their standards so that everyone seems special. Really, all we’ve done is lie to kids and tell them they are brilliant when they aren’t.

Parental Responsibilities

Here’s the shocking reality: Many Baby Boomers are feeling the pinch as their elderly parents have come to live with them while their coddled 23-year-old adult children are still living at home. One is a noble thing; the other is not.

– Our responsibility as parents is not to indefinitely care for our children. We should love them, then launch them.

– Our responsibility as parents is not to ensure that our children get everything with no effort. We should teach them, then allow them to succeed on their own.

– Our responsibility as parents is not to indefinitely finance education. We should get them started, then allow them to fund themselves.

– Our responsibility as parents is not to finance fashion. We should provide the basics, and let them earn their bling.

– Our responsibility as parents is not to tell our kids that their failures are not really failures. We should define success with them, encourage them forward, and help them evaluate if their plans fall apart.

The Hope

There is hope for the moral future of Millennials when we stop treating them like infants. Their poop stinks. Their sins hurt other people. They should be punished when they break the law. They should apologize when they wrong someone. They should experience the ramifications of their moral laxity.

When they gamble their check, let them starve. When they graduate college, let them pay their own loans back. When they wreck their car, don’t buy them a new one. When they lose a soccer game, let them cry. When they won’t look for work, don’t give them money.

Parents, we must allow our children to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. We must teach them to take full responsibility. We should not be their god. Our benevolence isn’t getting them anywhere.

Why? Because when you let older adolescents and adults take responsibility for their lives, they realize they have choices to make. And their choices ultimately determine their futures. As adults, we know that at the end of the day, they have to defend themselves. They have to become independent. They must shoulder the same responsibilities we do.

Yes, the world is dangerous. Yes, they may get hurt. Yes, they may not do what we want or succeed the way we want them to succeed. But they will be better on their own than in our basements. The same things that gave you and me character will form the character of their generation, as well.  

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Adam McLane
Adam McLane has served as a full-time or volunteer youth worker since 1996. A resident of San Diego, Adam now manages the online presence for Youth Specialties. Adam blogs about all sorts of technology, missions, and church leadership topics at www.AdamMcLane.com

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